"Big jobs usually go to the person who proves their ability to outgrow small ones." ~Theodore Roosevelt
"Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity." ~Reed Markham
How is it exactly that some people seem to get promotion after promotion, while others who seem to show plenty of potential just stay right where they are? It’s because there are tactics that successful people use on the job to ensure they are in the discussion of candidates and are ultimately selected.
One method that is often talked about in working towards that next promotion is to ask your boss what they are looking for in a candidate for promotion. This sounds like rock-solid advice, but the problem is that bosses almost never give a constructive answer to this question. They say things like, “Just make sure you make your numbers and give 110%.” What successful people do is answer that question for their boss and take action on those things. They don’t work haphazardly on being the best at things, they work on being the best at the things that matter.
If you are able to work these tactics into your routine on the job, you too could find yourself in the crowd that keeps getting looked at to rise through the ranks.
Worry about what your boss worries about – Have you ever taken work to your boss only to have them ask about something else? That’s the opposite of what we’re looking for here. Aligning your priorities with your boss’s priorities ensures that you’re not only doing what they want, but shows that you know how to set the right priorities yourself which is critical in any leadership position. While your boss may not clearly relay what their priorities are, successful people pay attention to what their boss talks about and focuses on, and over time are able to fill in the blanks and align their actions accordingly.
Always be acquiring new skills – If you’re not learning you’re dying in your career. People who get promoted show their value not only in the skills required to do their job, but in a variety of skills outside the scope of their current job. Surprising your boss with knowledge you have reassures them that you have the ability to learn which is key to success in any position. If you’re able to match some of those skills to the job you are looking for, then all the better. You can pick up skills anywhere you like in the organization simply by paying attention to how other people do their job, whether that’s Marketing, I.T., Finance or any other. Simply pay attention and ask questions, most people don’t mind a break in the day to walk you through some of the basics (especially if you entice them with the idea you might be able to do it yourself next time and save them work). Other skills like Excel, PowerPoint or other systems your organization uses can almost always be supplemented with online learning, or even a course that your organization covers.
Ask to help – Those who get promoted are a resource for their boss. If you want experience in doing “next level” work, why not ask to help with some. Your boss likely has tasks that match with your skillsets on some level and it gives you even more exposure to them and their work. Just ask your boss, and then ask them a few more times so they know you’re serious.
Self-promotion – Successful people don’t wait for things to just “happen”, they take action to make things happen. The first thing you want to do is to let your boss know that you are interested. This is where asking your boss that question, “What are you looking for in a candidate for promotion?” serves you as it puts them on notice that you are interested. The other thing you want to do is to publicize your successes. I’m not talking about bragging; I’m talking about making your boss aware of “progress” that is being made in the department. There are dozens of ways to ensure your successes are brought to the attention of others without being seeming to be out of line. Find some.
Have solutions to problems – You will come across problems, you will make mistakes, but successful people have solutions, they don’t bring their problems to their boss without an idea of how to solve them. If you want a promotion you need to learn to be responsible for finding solutions to problems that arise. That’s what a leader is largely responsible for. While you don’t want to wait to bring issues to the attention of your boss, spending at least a little time thinking about possible solutions before stepping into their office is often all it takes. And if you can’t come up with one you like, you can always present the solutions to your boss for consideration. That is the next best thing.
Quantify results – One thing that all leaders have in common is that they hear a lot of “fluff” about how good things are all of the time, but they know that talk is cheap. What you need to do is to put some numbers behind your accomplishments to give them substance. The ability to put together a report to track progress changes your talk into reality. One of the keys to doing this is to think about it as early in the process as possible. Oftentimes if you wait until the project is over, it’s too late to be able to measure the effect.
Act as if you’re already there – The most common application of this principle is to dress for the position you want to have, not the position you currently have. But it goes much further than that, you need to carry yourself like a leader. That means you have a positive and constructive attitude, you don’t get caught up in the drama of other coworkers, and you know what is appropriate in the workplace and what is not. If you need examples, just look to the leadership of your organization. While they might individually still have some faults, collectively you can piece together what you need to do.
Create your path – Here’s a secret: many of the people who are promoted, are promoted into positions that didn’t exist before. The way that they accomplished this is by creating and adding value to their current position to the point that it warranted a redefinition. They volunteer to take on extra duties, they come up with innovations and bring them to life, and they use their strengths in new ways to help the organization. The next time a new project comes up, volunteer to take it on even if it doesn’t fall exactly in your area of responsibility.
Work hard AND smart – Perhaps the most obvious tactic for promotion, but one that always bears mentioning as there are no shortcuts. It isn’t just about working hard or working smart, you need to do both. You want to emulate the work habits of those who are already successful in your organization. That means that you put in the hours to get the work done, but you also prioritize important tasks over small ones, and that you are always looking for ways to improve processes and procedures so that even more work gets done.
Create a plan – Having a goal is great, but what you really need is to create a plan to get there. Successful people create action steps that bridge where they are with where they want to be. Utilizing these tactics is fine, but coordinating how you use them to reach the promotion you are looking for can separate success from failure:
· Where are you? Every map has a starting place, and you need to be clear on where you are starting before you start taking “lefts and rights” toward your destination.
· Why are you there? What skills do you have in your “toolkit?” In other words, what strengths do you have that got you to where you are?
· Where do you want to be? Just like being clear on where you start, you need to be crystal clear on where you are going. “Getting promoted” isn’t specific enough, you need to be clear on exactly which position you are shooting for so that you can figure out what traits a successful person in that position has and align your strengths, address any weaknesses and start filling the gaps.
· How do you get there? Not all skills are created equal and not all of these tactics are going to be weighted equally in you reaching your goal. You need to clearly lay out the priorities of what you are going to do and going to work on to get the promotion. Actions with deadlines will be the key things to come out of this exercise and the stepping stones to the next level in your career.
People who get promoted do so through willful action. If you are able to put these tactics in place alongside already excellent work performance you will be well on your way to climbing the organizational ladder.
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